Retail is at a pivotal moment, sitting on the cusp of reinvention yet still surrounded by much uncertainty about how it will occur and where retailers should start. Amidst eye-catching new technologies at CES and promises at NRF that the digital transformation of retail will finally move from conversations to in-store capabilities, the focus is shifting to how brands and marketers can predict customer needs and wants to provide optimal experiences that hold their own against Amazon.
It’s time to stop dwelling on what 2018 will be the “year for” in retail and start focusing instead on the simple and actionable steps retailers can take to start evolving from the customer up rather than the boardroom down. Over the past year, many retailers have been slowed down by paralyzing fears of a ‘Retail Apocalypse’ that never really occurred and promising new technologies that never quite made it past their infancy. But while they have been waiting for shiny new capabilities to drive them forward, customers have been waiting to be recognized and understood, often hopping around competitors and ecommerce players to get what they need. In the midst of chasing the next best thing and scrambling to compete with the likes of Amazon, retailers have been missing crucial opportunities to capture their shoppers’ data, learn who they are and engage with them in personal ways that keep them coming back. Retail may be on the verge of a widespread digital transformation, but in order for it to have the positive impact retailers need, they must first adjust their mindsets to make sure they know who their customers are.
Customer engagement doesn’t have a place on the calendar
Already, so much consideration and strategizing is going in to planning for select days on the 2018 “retail calendar,” but it’s critical not to underestimate that today’s shoppers will shop when, where and how they want. It’s up to the retailer to make this as convenient as possible for the consumer by engaging the always connected, always browsing, always shopping individuals in cyclical conversations—pre-store, in-store and post-store. Too often, retailers fail to consider how smart and resourceful shoppers are about finding the best deals and experiences they crave, whether in-store, online, or in-store while online.
To keep up, retailers need to take a page out of Amazon’s book and focus on the personalized and convenient experiences today’s shoppers demand. It’s time retailers stop focusing on competing with Amazon’s customer base and immense data pool, and start getting back in the shopper business by putting themselves in the shoes of their customers and listening to what they’re asking for. Stepping outside a static retail or marketing calendar and into an ongoing pattern of customer analysis and interaction is the critical first step to finding and interacting with your best customers—the ones who are in store not just for the sales you have, but also for the experience you offer.
In-store pickup shouldn’t stop your shoppers from shopping
The buy online, pick-up in store (BOPIS) model is becoming standard as major retailers like Target, Bloomingdale’s, Kohl’s, Urban Outfitters and many more adopted the service before the recent holiday season. But as more retailers, especially smaller ones, adopt this strategy they must ensure that BOPIS does not prioritize convenience over customer experience and instead becomes a part of the experience. Just because omnichannel shopping and the need for instant gratification drives consumer habits doesn’t mean loyalty and engagement should fall by the wayside—in fact, it is actually quite the opposite.
At the heart of BOPIS is ultimate shopper convenience, but retailers must use caution not to stop their shoppers from shopping by focusing on quantity of sales over quality of relationships. Shorter in-store visits mean quick and targeted engagement is more important than ever as shoppers have less time and visibility in to the products and offers that are available. To balance this and uphold loyalty and sales, customer data should be collected and activated on an ongoing basis and at a quick pace so shoppers can receive personalized engagement no matter what stage of the purchase path they are at. Regardless of if a customer is in store to browse or simply to pick up an already purchased item, they are still expecting and entitled to a personalized experience that includes offers and helpful communication. Since engagement is a continuous journey, it would be a mistake to think that understanding and interacting with customers who have already purchased is not of equal, or even greater, importance.
Voice shopping is not ready to replace customer experience
At CES and NRF this year, it became clear that voice searching and voice shopping will play a prominent role in the lives of 2018 consumers. It’s no surprise that brands are turning to this method to connect with their customers, as it offers a convenient way for them to get the information and products they need without interrupting their day. When it comes to enhancing productivity, voice recognition can help drive quick sales, but retailers must be mindful that in no way are these devices ready to replace the sales associates or, more importantly, customer experiences that brick-and-mortar provides.
As retailers dabble with voice technology, it's important they stay focused on providing a full brand experience from beginning to end, no matter how the customer chooses to search or order from your brand. Voice shopping opens the door for a new customer journey, but retailers need to remember that it is only the beginning. Voice devices are a convenience tool but it is not their job, or their capability yet, to get to know the customer and provide them with a personalized experience—that power remains with the retailer. For voice technology to take off and serve a retailer well, they must stay proactive with their data, regardless of what channel the customer uses, so that a voice search or purchase can be followed by a regular cadence and nature of engagement.
Enda Mcshane is the chief executive of Velocity Worldwide